Monday, May 27, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Raipur

The killing of 27 Congressmen, including its senior leaders, in the Maoist attack has suddenly created a leadership vacuum in the party in Chhattisgarh. As the gravity of the situation sinks in the poll-bound state, the average Congressmen in the state as well as the central leadership are a worried lot. The party had taken long to create a new batch of leaders; things are back to the square one now. The party will have a pick a leader fast from the available ones.
The Congress first came face to face with the need of creating a leader rather than picking one from the existing ones in 2000 when the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh. It inherited a party unit that did not have a tall leader, Vidya Charan Shukla being the only exception. The party was reluctant to put all the eggs (or MLAs) in his basket and make him too powerful. It did not have a second line of leadership.

Power abhors vacuum. Ajit Jogi, then a member of Lok Sabha from Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh got appointed as the leader and the chief minister and the issue of creating a new line of leadership became a non-issue for three years. In 2003, the party fought and lost not only the elections but face too after the outgoing chief minister was caught in the cash-for-MLA scam. An attempt to buy off BJP MLAs by Jogi and his son became public and Jogi who had virtually doubled as the state party unit chief for three years of power was promptly suspended from the party.

The Congress was back to where it was in 2000. Fortunately for the party, it was not required to form the government then and this gave it an opportunity and time to groom a leadership. Five years is not long enough for this though. The central leadership also initially dilly-dallied making up its mind on the fate of irrepressible Jogi. Vidya Charan Shukla who had refused to be reconciled with Jogi had left the party just before the 2003 elections and had added to the woes of the party by taking away with him a substantial chunk of his supporters.

For five years after 2003 elections the party in Chhattisgarh remained rudderless. There was almost no leader in the party then who was considered a leader beyond the limits of his or her assembly constituency. Except for Jogi who was later re-admitted into the party and went to Lok Sabha, the party did not have a single Lok Sabha member also.

No wonder the phrase “B-team of the government” got coined during this period. And no wonder the party lost the second elections in 2008 too.

Around this time the party showed serious intent of grooming a leadership. The initial years were wasted in experimenting with ad hoc decisions till the choice zeroed in on Nand Kumar Patel who was appointed the state unit chief in April 2011. Patel came from a farmer’s family and belonged to an OBC caste. He was a leader with strong roots in his constituency in Raigarh district. A five-time MLA, he had been a part of the government for ten years.

Perhaps the credential that swung the decision in his favour was that he had been a Digvijaya Singh man. Charan Das Mahant, the lone member of Parliament from state and a Minister of State at the Center and Ravindra Chaubey, the leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh assembly are the only two leaders of stature left now after the killing of Patel and Mahendra Karma. The latter was the tallest tribal leader the party had.

Both Mahant and Chaubey have been important ministers since the days of Digvijaya Singh’s cabinet in Madhya Pradesh and are considered close to him. Both Chaubey and Mahant are the second generation leaders in their families and have strong ground level support. Chaubey, a six-time MLA from Durg district, however has an image of being rather too government-friendly and a resurgent party may not find this image convenient. The easy going and accessible Mahant has the advantage of belonging to the OBCs. Besides being a three term MLA, he has been elected to the Lok Sabha thrice. Mahant has been in charge of the state party unit earlier.

TS Singh Deo can also be given the party’s responsibility. Known generally as TS Baba or simply TS, he is one of the party vice-presidents. A sitting MLA from Sarguja, he was the man behind the “Parivartan Yatra” that ended in the ambush by the Naxals. He got an opportunity to expand his reach to the farthest corner of the state through the Yatra which proved his organizational skills. Suave and soft spoken Singh Deo is an ex-Royal.

Talking of ex-royals, Ram Chandra Singh Deo is the dark horse the party has. A bachelor and down to earth Raja of the erstwhile Korea state in Northern Chhattisgarh is the most experienced and acclaimed administrator the party has in its fold. People regard him as a leader who understands the problems of the common man and is even willing to go against the party line on issues concerning their welfare. 

Well-read, widely traveled, widely perceived as incorruptible, respected for his political and economic acumen and well known for the simple life he leads, age – he is 83 – is the only factor that is not in his favour. If not deemed fit to lead the party to the elections now, he may definitely be a chief minister material if the party comes to power after the elections – a Chhattisgarh version of Manmohan Singh of UPA – I.

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